His shtick here is as illogical in its own way as Marco Rubio’s was yesterday. Rubio stood by his position during the primaries that Trump’s dangerously unfit to wield power while also insisting he’d honor his pledge to support the nominee. Does not compute. Either Trump’s unworthy of support or he isn’t. Trying to have it both ways is why Rubio’s credibility is in ruins today even among some of his own fans. Ryan’s two-step is that (1) party unification is a process and he remains undecided about Trump, and (2) America simply cannot risk handing Hillary Clinton the power to make Supreme Court appointments and extend Barack Obama’s agenda. Once again: Does not compute. Either Trump’s unworthy of support or he isn’t. If Ryan views the question this fall not as “Are either of these candidates fit for office?” but rather as “Can a free America survive a Hillary Clinton presidency?” then his endorsement of Trump is a fait accompli. In fact, you could argue that his endorsement will be worth much more now when it finally happens than it would have been had he endorsed Trump last week, like Mitch McConnell did. McConnell’s support was perfunctory and half-hearted; Ryan, by advertising his misgivings, is signaling that his support needs be earned. Except … it really doesn’t need to be earned and he’s telling you right here in the clip why it doesn’t. But that’s how it’ll look once he finally caves and backs Trump. “Trump conservative enough for Paul Ryan!” the headlines will read. That’s worth a lot more to Trump in mainstreaming him as a “conservative” figure than McConnell’s support was.
But maybe I’m being uncharitable to Ryan. What if he means … this?
He’s not signaling that he’ll back Trump over Clinton, he’s suggesting that Trump can’t beat Clinton unless he adopts a more conservative agenda. That’s what he means by unification being a process. It’s not that Trump needs to win Ryan over, it’s that he needs to win over skeptical grassroots conservatives and Ryan’s going to try to help him by leaning on him to stick to a conservative line in the general election. I think that’s how Ryan would explain what he’s after here. But it’s nonsense on stilts: Ask any Trumper why they think he stands a chance against Hillary and they’ll tell you it’s because he doesn’t take a dogmatic conservative line. He’s going to put blue states in play, or so they claim, by pushing protectionism. If he gives that up and adopts Ted Cruz’s platform or — horrors — a Ryanesque program of entitlement cuts, he’ll revert to a more or less orthodox conservative candidate in a country that hasn’t elected one of those in more than a decade. Between that and his personal unpopularity, he’d be cooked. His only chance, ironically for a guy who’s often semi-coherent on policy, is to beat Clinton on policy by pushing an essentially left-ish line on economics coupled with a hard-right line on immigration. And a smart guy like Ryan knows it. Which means, I guess, all he’s really asking for here is for Trump to mouth some platitudes about being a good conservative before Ryan checks the endorsement box and Trump heads off to the general election to do his “Bernie + a wall” routine. Then Ryan can claim after the election how “disappointed” he was that Trump didn’t keep his ideological promises, as if he didn’t know that was in the cards all along.
A new YouGov poll out today, by the way, finds that 64 percent of Republicans think Ryan should endorse Trump versus 16 percent who say he shouldn’t. That’s proof enough that he’ll cave. Exit quotation from Ann Coulter, raising the bar on all professions of Trump loyalty: “He doesn’t need to have this meeting [with Ryan], he is the party. He is the heart and soul of the party.”